Do You Really Want Your Neighbor’s Wonderful Life?

Are you feeling angry? Tired?  Frustrated? Envious? Do you think you are working harder than ever, yet not making much progress?

If your answer is yes, you are not alone.

Millions of people feel that life is passing them by. No matter what they do, it is always the other guy who gets the promotion, buys fancy cars, and sends his kids to Harvard, while they are barely treading water.

Are they right? And if so, what is the solution?

Facebook version of reality

Beach Vacation

Beach Vacation

You “friend” people on Facebook. Or other “social media” sites. Then they send you pictures of their beach vacations, their happy and smart kids, their new cars. And here you are, struggling with the daily grind of your mundane life.

Disconnect

Anger often arises if you want something badly, and your desires are thwarted. Or you think you deserve something, and yet you end up not getting it.

Frustration commonly has similar roots.

Reality

The real world exists.

We want it to be a certain way, but it is a stubborn beast. It goes along its merry way, impervious to our desires. It defies our efforts to control it.

Sooner or later, reality clashes with our expectations. The results, if not put into perspective, can be disastrous.

Grown-ups’ problems

tantrumAs children, we are often pampered. If we want something, we go to our parents, and demand we get it. If we don’t get our way, some of us throw a tantrum.

And then we grow up.

Control and compare

The first clash with reality in an adult world comes through comparisons.

We look at our colleagues and our neighbors. And we feel envious if they are better off than we are. Because we feel that we are just as smart as they are, if not smarter.

Envy, if not dealt with firmly and rationally, leads to resentment, bitterness, and anger.

From here, where?

So you are upset. You are better (you think), but your colleagues get all the riches. You hate that.

angryWhere is this going to lead you? Anger, hatred, resentment … this is a recipe for sleepless nights and an acid feeling in your gut. Will this make you any richer? Will that Lamborghini parked next door find its way into your garage?

No, and no.

You will be no richer, and your outlook towards life is likely to get clouded. Your enjoyment of life will diminish.

So what is the answer?

We need less envy, and more clarity of thought, more empathy, more gratitude.

Think about it.

You envy your neighbor’s mansion, his big car, his fancy vacations. But they do not exist in a vacuum. They are often the end result of a number of decisions he made along the way. Decisions which you do not know about. Decisions that you might not have made if you had that choice.

Perhaps he studied hard while his college classmates were out partying.

Perhaps he toiled at part-time jobs while others were slumped in front of their TVs, sipping beer and devouring potato chips.

Do you want his whole life?

This is the real clincher.

Your neighbor’s life is a package deal.

LamborghiniYou drool over his car. But with it might come his son’s drug addiction, his wife’s loneliness and depression, the alimony he pays to ex-wives, and the grief he gets from them. If you want his car, you will have to accept his problems, too. Ready for the deal?

Pick and choose

That is what we want to do. We want the “Facebook” elements of others’ lives, but we want to steer clear of their problems, many of which we do not even know about. Life does not work like that.

Live happily ever after?

And even if you got your neighbor’s life, and his riches, then what? You will ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after? Hardly. Life is not a Hollywood movie.

Where now?

You need a strategy to deal with life. Bitterness, envy, resentment, anger, and frustration are not strategies. They are symptoms. Symptoms that you are not happy in your own skin.

Accept reality

You are what you are. Sit down. Take a deep breath in. Look deep inside you. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Be grateful for what you have. You probably have more than a lot of the 7 billion or so people on this planet, especially if you live in the Western world.

Then take a cold, hard look at your problems. Is the lack of a Mercedes a real problem? Do you really need a beach house and several million dollars to be happy in this world? If so, mankind is really doomed.

What matters in life

Sooner or later, you will have to decide what it is that you really want. What will make you happy? What will give your life meaning? What will give you satisfaction?

If your answers deal with material things, you will always be disappointed. Kids will move out, and the large house will be mostly empty, except for stuff. Stuff that nobody uses anymore.

JunkThe car will lose its shine. The new car smell will fade. Eventually, it will go to the junk yard.

Stuff is temporary. Life is temporary.

The neighbor’s Lamborghini? It will end up as scrap metal one day.

So what should you do?

  • Remember all the good things that have happened to you.
  •  Be Grateful!

    Be Grateful!

    Be grateful for all of them.

  • Live in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest. This is the only moment you have. The past is gone. The future is not guaranteed. So enjoy all aspects of the present moment. This is when you are alive. This is your life.
  • Focus on friends, family, love.
  • You have one life. It might not be perfect. But it is yours. Live it, instead of grumbling about it.

 

Secrets of Pride, Anger, and Social Emotions

“You are a genius!”

“You are such a total failure!”

Each one of us has an inner voice which keeps nagging us. It keeps a running scorecard of everything we do, and regularly passes judgment. One second it can take us to the top of a mountain, and the very next, bring us crashing down.

Why is this so?

Evolution

evolution

This is a convenient target to blame. We are wired this way. We cannot help ourselves.

To some extent, that is true.

Living beings need to survive, and propagate the species. Social animals want to move up the social hierarchy, because that improves the odds of survival and reproduction.

And thus are born instincts and emotions, which warn us against danger, and help us get ahead in the world.

Is this relevant today?

Yes and no.

Dangers to life and limb are of a different nature today. The stress system previously triggered by the roar of a tiger in the wild is now brought into play when we are sitting in traffic, fretting and fuming because we are late for a meeting. The hormones pouring into our bloodstream (cortisol and adrenaline), which were meant to aid fight or flight, now end up raising our blood pressure and blood sugar.

Are primary or basic emotions still useful?

To some extent, they are. They still alert us to the possibility of harm.

Anger, joy, sadness, surprise, fear, and disgust develop in the first 9 months of an infant’s life

fear

These basic human emotions have characteristic facial expressions which accompany them. An early signal of both fear and surprise is a widening of the eyes, which increases our field of vision, allowing a better chance of fast escape, as we can see more of our surroundings.

surprise

The emotions of anger and disgust show the same initial facial expression, a  wrinkled nose, which was likely designed to reduce the potential for breathing in particles dangerous to health.

Modern role

Many researchers believe that emotions affect our cognition, influence our thinking, and influence the way we make decisions.

Gut feeling

The human brain can take in vast amounts of information, process it rapidly, and present to us a plan for rapid action, without our having to think about it at a conscious level. Our emotions play a key role in this, through our “instincts,” or “gut feelings.”

In many situations, the amount of information available is so much that analyzing it carefully and consciously would take a lot of time. You might be in a car showroom, with the salesman pushing you to close a deal. But your brain sees a red flag, and tries to warn you. You start getting an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach. You do not know what it is, but your brain has been there before, and it is warning you that something is fishy, and you should leave. Only later do you find out that the sales person has a track record of duping customers. Your instincts, however, picked up some subtle cues and warned you in time.

But it can work against you

Emotions act in a very simplistic manner. They present you information about your surroundings and circumstances rather broadly, and you react to that without too much conscious thought. This, however, can also create problems in the modern world. When things do not go your way, you tend to get angry, and this could become a recurrent pattern. Chronic anger can create health problems, such as high blood pressure, and even heart disease.

Self-conscious emotions

These emotions can cause even greater problems.

pride

Pride, hubris, guilt, and shame are commonly considered to be “self-conscious” emotions. They develop later in life than the basic emotions of anger, fear, etc. (which can be seen by 9 months). Pride, for example, develops by the end of the third year of life.

These emotions depend on an interaction between a person and the society in which he or she lives.

Pride and social status

Society and culture often dictate what kind of a person we are expected to be. Pride helps us to regulate our behavior to gain the approval of society. It also motivates us to avoid actions of which society disapproves. Thus it helps us to avoid feelings of rejection.

Pride is an important building block for self-esteem, helping us to attain and maintain a certain status in society.

Pride and goal setting

People constantly evaluate social norms, and then set goals for themselves. If they meet or exceed those goals, they feel a sense of pride, which promotes further achievement. A failure to meet those goals leads to a sense of shame or guilt.

Thus pride depends on constant self-evaluation.

Is pride two emotions?

Pride and hubris are being studied afresh these days.

It is commonly felt that the difference between the two is only of degree. An excessive sense of pride is commonly called hubris, which is detrimental to emotional and social development.

Some researchers feel, however, that we need to distinguish between an achievement-based pride and a hubristic pride

Pride in achievement

Almost all of us have experienced this.

You run track, and come in first in a tough competition. Or you are a musician, and win an award for a fine performance. You might, perhaps, receive praise and a promotion for completing a project which wins your company new clients.

Most human beings would feel proud under these circumstances.

Hubristic pride

This is more problematic.

hubris

This is the pride a person feels because of who he thinks he is.

Most people in this category have a distorted sense of self-perception, and may have delusions of grandeur. They are often arrogant and conceited.

They feel that they deserve praise for who they are, not just for what they have achieved.

Impact of pride

Psychologists feel that an achievement-based pride helps to develop self-esteem, and promotes “good behavior” and the promotion of societal goals.

Hubris and narcissism

Unlike “regular pride,” hubristic pride is a clearly negative emotion, with strong ties to narcissism.

Such people frequently have deep-rooted insecurities. They might feel inadequate, and often harbor feelings of shame. To protect themselves from these emotions, they adopt a cloak of arrogance and self-aggrandizement.

This is a defensive process, and is maladaptive in nature.

Demonstration of pride

This depends on the cultural and social norms the persons grows up learning.

In Eastern, “group based” cultures, demonstration of pride aggressively is frowned upon, and pride is often considered a negative emotion.

However, in the more individualistic societies of the West, pride is usually considered a virtue. Rather than condemning it as a vice, Western societies like to encourage pride in both children and adults.

A deeper truth?

Even achievement-based pride can create problems.

This pride depends on positive results. However, results of our actions are never under our control. We can only control our own actions.

Results, pride, and self-esteem

If you praise yourself, or your child, mostly for achievements, you might be sending the wrong message.

You can try your best, and yet fail in an enterprise. Other times, you could cruise through your assignment, and still get positive results purely through luck. What would you rather praise and encourage, the effort, or the result? What is more likely to stand you in good stead through the course of a lifetime?

So what is the bottom line?

joy

  • Emotions are deeply ingrained in the human psyche.
  • We receive an evolutionary benefit from emotions, as they alert us to danger and promote prompt, subconscious action.
  • In the modern setting, many emotions are triggered inappropriately, or excessively, and they can hurt us, causing significant unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.
  • Chronic anger, excessive sadness, and inappropriate fear can ruin many a life.
  • Excessive pride and shame can also have deleterious effects.
  • Emotions trigger thought and action.
  • It is vital that we understand and control our emotions and their triggers, in order to moderate our responses, and avoid becoming slaves to our emotions.
  • There is often a lack of association between effort, action, and achievement. Be careful what you praise and encourage.

Emotions, happiness & satisfaction

You can read more about this connection in my book, available here:

http://goo.gl/4tp2t9.

Do Not Let Envy Derail Your Happiness!

Most human beings have the ability to achieve happiness fairly quickly in life, and without enormous effort. Then why don’t we?

Potholes

pothole

We let negative emotions create potholes on a road which would otherwise be smooth.

Envy, jealousy, and resentment: These are common human emotions, and cause uncommon suffering.

A little soul?

“Envy is a littleness of soul, which cannot see beyond a certain point…”

-William Hazlitt

Envy or jealousy?

People often feel that these two emotions are similar, but they really are not, at least not technically.

The emotion of envy essentially implies that someone else has something that you lack, and really want for yourself. You covet that possession, or situation, or attribute.

jealous

Jealousy implies that you are afraid of being replaced by somebody else. It is often used in situations where you feel that someone you love might start loving somebody else more. So you have something (usually a relationship), and this is being threatened by a third individual.

Primary emotions

shame

Happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, shame, grief, and disgust are found in most cultures all over the world. Even young children have been shown to display these emotions.

Non-basic (secondary) emotions

Examples of these are envy, jealousy, and resentment. These are more complex, and depend on the child discovering cultural and social rules as he or she grows up. As such, they develop later than the primary emotions.

Mixture

Some of these secondary emotions result from a mixture of the basic emotions. Jealousy, for example, contains elements of fear and anger. Similarly, feelings of guilt can be a summation of sadness and fear.

Wrong

Fundamentally, you feel envious when you do not have a quality or object which somebody else has. In addition, you feel that this situation is unfair, or wrong.

Poor self-esteem

inadequacy

People who are troubled by severe envy often feel inadequate. They are frustrated by the sense of not having achieved their goals, and are angry at others who have.

Envy can lead to maliciousness, and a desire to harm or humiliate the other person. A perverse wish to scratch your neighbor’s brand-new Ferrari falls into this category!

Invidious hostility, such as gossip, backbiting, and defamation are some of the other consequences of envy.

Resentment

resent

This is a complex emotion, and is usually a combination of anger, fear, and disappointment.

It is often directed against a person whose social status is higher than yours.  The underlying feeling you get is that you have been treated unfairly, and you are not in a position to do much about it.

It can even be the result of envy, if you feel that you have worked hard, and have not received much recognition or reward, while another person, who you think has not worked as hard, has gone ahead in life.

Quite often, resentment can leave you feeling bitter and depressed.

Resentment can be mistaken for pure anger, but the two emotions frequently have distinct external expression. People often express anger in an aggressive manner, while resentment is commonly internalized, where it can “burn the person up” from the inside.

Phthonos

The Greeks were no strangers to envy. Phthonos was their spirit of envy and jealousy in ancient times, and he also had a more popular female counterpart.

Nemesis

She was the Greek goddess of jealous retribution, the female counterpart of Phthonos. Her domain was indignation, especially directed at subjects who were felt to be undeserving of their good fortune.

Ill effects of envy

Envy can seriously undermine one’s mental health. It creates unnecessary stress, and leaves the victim feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety, hostility, and depression are common results of envy. Irritability and anger often follow, and the envious person suffers the loss of friends (who do not want to hang out with a grumpy person) and descends into a chronic state of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.

Bitterness

This is a common result of chronic envy, resentment, and jealousy. These negative emotions extract a heavy toll.

Count whose blessings?

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”

-Harold Coffin

Long lasting

“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.”

-Heraclitus

The Gita on envy

murudeshwar-172586_1280 (1)

The Gita is an ancient Indian epic dealing with philosophy and religion. It addresses most of the common roadblocks on the path to happiness.

      Ahankaram balam darpam kamam krodham cha sanshritah

      Mamatmaparadeheshum pradvishantoabhyasuyakah  (Gita 16:18)

In this verse, Lord Krishna, a Hindu god, is explaining to his disciple Arjuna the character traits found in people who have demonic personalities. He says that such people are egotistical, violent, arrogant, and full of lust. They are angry and full of envy. They forget that God is present in their bodies, and the bodies of all other human beings, as their soul. By harboring these destructive emotions, they abuse and dishonor their innermost sacred selves.

So what to do?

Feelings of envy, jealousy, and resentment are deeply ingrained in our psyche from millennia of evolution. Human beings have survival mechanisms which alert them to danger, and enable them to take action. These days, however, these emotions are triggered subconsciously, often at inopportune times, and have harmful effects.

  • First, become more self-aware.
  • Analyze your emotions and responses frequently, and identify what triggers envy, anger, resentment, and bitterness in you.
  • Recognize and remind yourself that talent and rewards are not always evenly distributed in this world.
  • Remind yourself often of your own unique abilities and gifts, which many others may lack.
  • thanks
  • Develop a sense of gratitude for all that has been given to you, rather than moan about what you don’t have. In other words, count your blessings! Frequently! You can read more about the value of gratitude here: http://goo.gl/wMMBDB.
  • medit
  • Take up meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. The technique and benefits of deep breathing are described here: http://goo.gl/v9dQ0d.
  • If you still feel that these emotions are not under good control, consider consulting a trained mental health professional.

Summary

The pursuit of happiness is made unnecessarily complicated by a host of negative emotions. Recognizing and controlling them will go a long way toward improving your satisfaction with life.

Read more about leading a happy and satisfying life athttp://goo.gl/4tp2t9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Are So Smart, Why Do You Keep Buying Stuff?

“Wow, what a marvelous Lexus! I bought it 12 years ago!”

sports car

When was the last time you had an ecstatic reaction like that on seeing your old Lexus, Mercedes, or Toyota? By now, it is just a car, which gets you from A to B. Truth be told, it was just a car the day you bought it, too. But you had given it extra emotional value. But now, you are habituated to it, to use a psychological term. So you don’t drool over it any more.

More is better?

Not always.

You covet things, for multiple reasons, mostly irrational.

When you buy what you covet, you get a lot of pleasure, a high, if you will. But as time goes on, you get used to that car, that rug, that painting. With time, it gives you less and less pleasure, which is what experts call declining marginal utility.

stuff

Then there comes a time when the hassle value of what you have may exceed the slight pleasure you get from it. You have to store your possessions, maintain them, insure them, clean them, dust them off. What a pain!

But we don’t learn.

People are smart, aren’t they?

Not always.

Irrational behavior

For years, conventional economists felt that people behaved in logical, rational ways. They weighed the risks and benefits of their choices, and made decisions that made sense. More recent research has turned this thinking on its head.

Market movements

Many people buy stocks when they are high, and sell when they are low, just the opposite of what is classically taught. The reason is herd behavior: we buy when everybody is buying, and sell when everybody is selling. Thus market panic gets multiplied, often for no good reason, and at least disproportionately.

stockmarket

Our actions are clearly and significantly influenced by those of others, good, bad or ugly.

This is not rational behavior.

Advertising

ad

The marketing experts are also experts in psychology. Their job is to make you buy their product, whether you need it or not. And, quite often, they want you to buy their product in bulk, where possible, and to keep on buying it. For that, they need to manipulate human behavior.

Zero has enormous value

free

There is no free lunch, we are often told.

But there is the allure of a free lunch. And that is all you need to buy stuff, and keep on buying more stuff. Stuff you may not need, and stuff you would not otherwise buy.

People attending conferences frequently pick up ‘free’ pencils, pens and notebooks at the meeting site. They lug them home, find a place to store them, and eventually just throw them out.

Only to pick up some more at the next conference.

Buy one get one free

This is how many stores manipulate customer behavior to increase their sales and profits. And this reinforces the power of zero, or free.

Say you go to a store to buy a particular type of shirt, perhaps a linen shirt. However, you find a different shirt, advertised as “buy one, get one free.” Human nature being what it is, you will probably buy the one which comes with a free second one. Even if you don’t like it as much as you do the linen shirt you wanted in the first place.

Multiply this scenario thousands of times, and the companies get new customers who would otherwise not have bought their products. After the sale is over, these customers might continue to buy those products, out of sheer habit.

Thus you buy things you didn’t want, in quantities you did not intend to. Before you know it, companies are getting richer, and your home storage capacity is overwhelmed.

And, most of the time, you do not end up more happy. So there really is no free lunch.

Free shipping!

Some online merchants offer free shipping, but only if your order exceeds a certain dollar value. Have you ever been tempted to buy something you did not really need, just to nudge your total order into the ‘free shipping’ range? Me too!

Virtual ownership

convertible

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist, describes the powerful influence ‘virtual ownership’ has on us, in his book “Predictably Irrational.” Virtual ownership is a tool frequently used by the advertising industry to lure people into buying their products. You see pictures of a luxury convertible, perhaps with its top down, racing along a glorious coastline, with a young attractive couple in it, having the time of their lives. That picture makes you desire the car. You feel you are there on the coast.The more you see that image, the more you feel as if you ‘virtually’ own the car. Then you want to actually buy it. Whether you can afford it or not.

Desires, cravings, and anger

The Gita, an Indian epic of philosophy and religion, declares:

          Dhyayato vishayan punsaha sangas teshu upajayate

          Sangat sanjayate kamah kamat krodho abhijayate  (Gita 2:62)

Lord Krishna, a Hindu god, explains to his disciple Arjuna how we fall prey to our desires. If we keep thinking frequently about sensory pleasures, we develop an attachment to them. (This seems to be what Dan Ariely calls virtual ownership: we see something alluring, we feel we almost own it after repeated exposure, then we want to actually own it. The Gita, of course, was written thousands of years before Ariely’s time).

Once we develop an attachment to an object, we desire it, we lust after it. And if something or someone comes in our way, or thwarts our desires, we get angry, and often lash out blindly at them. Thus starts the slippery slope of desire, senseless acquisition, and spiritual decay.

So who is smart?

The consumer society enriches businesses, encourages mindless and back-breaking debt, preys upon the weaknesses of the human mind, and does very little to promote human happiness.

Are we not responsible for our own actions, then?

Of course, we are.

However, we need to remind ourselves of the powerful forces which are at play to influence our behavior at a subconscious level. Then we will perhaps be able to combat them better, and channel our pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction in a different, more rewarding direction.

Want to read more?

 

gita_final_1400x2400 (2)

The Gita is a substantial book of over 700 verses, written in Sanskrit. Numerous translations are available, in many languages.

If you would like to read a selection of its verses, designed to enhance a sense of value and meaning, you can consider my E-book, “How to Lead a Satisfying Life: 11 Universal Lessons From the Gita,” available at … http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5TGM1U.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose Today: How Not to be Angry

Wouldn’t you just love to have everything go your way?

Your spouse does everything you want him or her to do, even before you express your wishes.

Your boss gives you a raise before you can ask for it.

The red traffic lights all turn to green just as you approach them, and traffic jams dissolve before you get snarled up in them.

Well, dream on. Real life is not like that.

Welcome to reality

robot

You don’t really control much of anything at all, if you think about it deeply enough. You can control your actions, barely, if you work hard at it. Everything else… well, good luck!

Frustration begets anger

There are many reasons for people to get angry. We have discussed this in detail in a previous post at http://goo.gl/3Q6Moz. A major cause is the frustration resulting from the realization that things are not going the way you want them to go.

And, by the way, others often don’t do what we want them to do. Ever notice that? That can make you fly off the handle, too, if you are not careful.

Disappointment and worry

worry

We tend to have expectations of how people should behave, how things should turn out, how our lives should unfold. Yet nobody has all of his or her expectations met.

Unmet expectations, constant worry, and disappointment can all be expressed as an outburst of anger.

Why worry about anger?

Many authorities warn us about the dangers of uncontrolled anger.

An Indian epic of philosophy and religion, the Gita, warned us about a living hell on earth thousands of years ago:

          Trividham narkasya idam dvaram nashanamatmanah

          Kamah krodhastada lobhastasmadetat trayam tyajet  (Gita 16:21)

This Sanskrit verse tells us that there is a door which leads the living soul to hell and destruction. This door is made up of three parts: anger, uncontrolled lust/desire, and greed. All three of these evils must be rejected forthright.

When to seek help

When anger interferes significantly with your lifestyle, your work, your relationships, it is time to take action. Some steps you can take yourself, while others are best done under the supervision of professionals.

Know thyself!

There is no way you can get a handle on your anger issues unless you first take a step back, sit down in a quiet place, and ask yourself: “What makes me angry?”

It is not that difficult

You do not need to reinvent the wheel here. Most people get angry with issues related to family members, friends, their careers/ work environment, or traffic problems.

traffic

Most of the triggers involve a feeling of loss of control, or things not going according to your plans or wishes.

Identify the major situations and triggers which set off a spasm of anger, and preferably write them down.

Confine yourself to major or frequent issues. As they say, don’t sweat the small stuff.

What do you really want?

This is often the crux of the problem. We want X to love us, but he or she loves Y.

We want the cars ahead of us to get a move on and get out of our way, because we are getting late.

We want the book we wrote to become an overnight success.

When it doesn’t happen, we get angry.

We need to ask ourselves, “What do I really want to happen, which is not happening?”

Logic dissolves anger

Logic

Once you start thinking things through calmly, your brain starts taking control, and your emotions stop pulling and pushing you all over the place.

Distorted thinking, rapid-fire decision making, and impulsive, aggressive action are the hallmarks of the anger response. Shining the light of reason can help to dispel the darkness of emotion and anger.

So solve the problem!

When you explode in anger, you are reacting (quite often, over-reacting).

Let’s get away from that, identify the problem, and then try to solve it.

Once you find out what makes you angry, and what you would like to be different, it is time to ask yourself: “Can I do anything about it?”

Tried controlling others?

It usually cannot be done. The only one truly under your control is yourself, and your own actions. So quit trying to control the world (or your spouse)!

Light a candle

Candle

Don’t just curse the darkness!

Once you identify a problem, try to think about solving it in a different way. Instead of blaming others, make an attempt to change your own behavior and expectations.

Suppose you and your spouse are often late for your appointments. Instead of ranting and raving at your significant other, and blaming them for always making you late, ask yourself if they are overworked. If you help lighten their load, they will appreciate it, and have more time to get ready.

Change yourself, and perhaps others will notice it, and be more motivated to work with you to solve problems rationally.

Other techniques

We have discussed time-outs, yoga, deep breathing, mindful meditation, exercise and their role in anger management in a previous article at http://goo.gl/v9dQ0d.

Avoiding grudges, practicing forgiveness, and use of humor are also beneficial techniques.

Professional help

Seek the help of trained specialists:

  • If your own steps to manage your anger do not show satisfactory results.
  • If you cause harm to others during your outbursts.
  • If your anger causes problems with your job and career.
  • If you do things in a fit of anger which you wish you had not done.
  • If you have had problems with law enforcement agencies as a consequence of your actions when you were angry.

Epictetus of Rome (55 AD- 135 AD)

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

“When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.”

The philosopher emphasized that external events cannot disturb your equilibrium, no matter how nasty they are. Only you can do that, by deciding how you will react emotionally to those events. Choose wisely and thoughtfully.

The Gita, again

Gita

          Shaknotihaiva yah sodhum prak sharira vimokshanata

          Kamakrodhotabhavama yogama sa yuktaha sa sukhi narah (Gita 5:23)

This verse tells us that there are waves (usually giant waves) of uncontrolled desires and uncontrolled anger that all human beings experience during their lives. The true yogi, the one who has mastered yoga, and the truly happy person, is he or she who is able to tolerate and ride out these waves.

Summary

  • You have a choice.
  • Choose not to be angry, but to solve the problem.
  • Choose to be a yogi.
  • Choose to be happy.
  • There are many techniques and many pathways to a happy and satisfying life. Read more about this in my book “How to Lead a satisfying Life: 11 Universal Lessons From the Gita,” available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5TGM1U.

 

Want to Control Your Anger? Learn How to Breathe!

scuba

Okay, you can breathe out now!

Most of us do not know how to breathe right. And that worsens stress and tension. But let us back up a little first.

React already!

Split-second decision making is the essential survival mechanism all human beings have been blessed with. Without it, the species would have died off long ago.

Not safe! Run!

run

When we find ourselves in a novel situation, we must decide quickly whether we are safe or not. And then we have to act promptly and aggressively, if there is the slightest risk to us or our loved ones.

The anger response is part of this scenario. And there lies the problem.

Anger response

This is a simplistic response, for a good reason. In dangerous situations, we cannot afford to indulge in nuanced, balanced, and detailed thinking. We need to simplify the information available and make snap judgments.

This ability served our forefathers well, and kept them safe. But it is hurting us.

Shoot first, aim later

shoot

This was fine in the past, and is still fine in emergency situations now. But most situations where we get angry are not emergencies. At those times, we need to pause, evaluate the information we have, and then ask ourselves what else could be relevant. Then we van weigh the pros and cons of aggressive action, versus perhaps no immediate action. But the anger response does not allow us that liberty. It tells us, “Ready, shoot, aim.”

The road to destruction

Krodhaat bhavati sammohah sammohat smritivibhramah

          Smritibhranshat budhinasho budhinashat pranashyati (Gita 2:63)

The above verse, in the ancient language Sanskrit, is from an Indian epic of philosophy and religion, the Gita. Here the Hindu god Lord Krishna is explaining to his disciple Arjuna the sequence of events which leads to human beings losing their way and sliding down the slippery slope of self-destruction.

He starts out in the previous verse by saying that a fascination with sensory gratification is followed by anger when our desires are frustrated. In this verse he explains that the accumulation of anger often leads to rage, confusion, and bewilderment. That can proceed to a loss of memory and perspective, which in turn impairs one’s intellect. What follows is the complete destruction of a life.

You hurt yourself

rage

We often feel angry at others, but this emotion ends up hurting us more. Violence and aggression are common results of anger, and they can lead to painful outcomes at work, or in family situations, and even legal consequences.

Chronic anger has its own associated problems: chronic stress, feeling on edge, and at times, feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame.

There is also a connection between chronic anger, chronic stress, and cardiovascular diseases.

Your enemies

A little bit of Sanskrit from the Gita again:

Kama esha krodha esha rajoguna samudbhavah

          Mahashano mahapapma vidhayenamiha vairinam (Gita 3:37)

Here Lord Krishna describes the two major enemies of mankind: desire (especially uncontrolled desire), and anger. They are all-powerful, and capable of swallowing everything and everyone in their path.

Thus we have to fight them.

Manage thy anger

Most human beings will get angry at some point or the other. Eliminating anger may not be possible.

Thus, the goal should be to manage your anger to protect your health and safety, as well as that of people around you.

Primum non nocere

This is part of the Hippocratic oath for physicians: First of all, do no harm. This also applies to anger management.

Thus the first few steps you take ought to be directed at preventing violence.

Time out, walk away

walk

Quite often, this may be all that is needed.

Recognize that you are angry, and that reacting aggressively and violently will probably make matters worse. So, if at all possible, leave the scene of action. If you are angry at a person, tell them that you will discuss the situation later, excuse yourself, and leave. Take a walk. Go to the park. Or go to a different room.

Buying time

That is what the above actions amount to.

Problems are created when you act in anger, without thinking things through, in the heat of the moment.

Even in the middle of an argument, it is helpful to tell yourself to STOP!  Then ask yourself why you got angry in the first place.

The very act of trying to think actively and rationally will have a calming effect.

Then remind yourself of what could possibly go wrong if you yelled and screamed and exploded in a full-blown outburst of rage. Think of what that action could possibly achieve.

And then make a conscious choice: about how you should respond, rather than letting your anger push you helplessly into an involuntary response.

Yoga

 

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Many forms of yoga are helpful in long term anger management.

One of the easiest, simplest, and most relaxing of yoga poses is the shavasana, or the “corpse pose.” Regular practice of this pose is of significant benefit in stress relief and anger control.

I have described the details of this yoga pose in a previous article, and you can read about it here … http://www.shivharsh.com/?p=18

Deep breathing

deep breath

This has been studied in detail, again for stress relief and anger management.

Breathing exercises are some of the basic tenets of yoga practice. Even in day-to-day life, you can hear people say, “Take a deep breath,” when giving advice to somebody ready to explode with anger.

Don’t we know how to breathe?

Turns out, we don’t.

We breathe, on an average, about 20,000 times a day. And most people do it incorrectly most of the time.

We spend most of our time taking shallow and unconscious breaths. We also frequently hold our breath, especially if we are excited or tense. And that is just not a good way to breathe.

Baby breaths

Take the time to watch a young baby breathe. It takes slow and deep breaths, using its belly.

Things start to change fairly early for us as we get older. People tend to suck their stomachs in and puff their chest out, causing tension in the muscles. It also makes us “chest breathers.” We breathe rather fast, and expand only the upper and middle parts of our lungs. This is inefficient for proper air exchange.

To get a better feel for this, pay attention to how you breathe, when you get a chance. Notice if your belly moves in and out, or your chest does, with each “normal” breath. Also count how many times a minute you breathe.

Push that belt out

To start, find a peaceful place. You can sit up, or lie down. Then consciously take a deep breath in, imagining the diaphragm going down into your belly. Imagine, or visualize, your belt move outwards as you breathe in. Then slowly let your breath out.

With practice, you can slow your breathing to 8-10 breaths a minute, instead of the usual 14. There are people who can slow it down even more. And this has been shown to be of significant benefit, to your physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Slow, deep breathing done for about 20 minutes a day, is a very effective anger management technique. If you can’t do it all at once, even taking 3-4 deep breaths hourly while you are awake will calm you.

Other techniques

anger manage

Anger management has been studied in detail, and elaborate programs have been devised to help people.

Other forms of yoga, mindfulness meditation, rational emotive behavioral therapy, and techniques focusing on problem solving, rather than reacting, have all proven to be useful. Even simple things like “counting to ten” before you react to a stimulus which triggers anger can help.

There are also specialized programs devised by professionals, with good results.

We will discuss some of these in more detail in further posts.

In summary

  • Anger is a damaging emotion, at times hurting the one who feels it even more than the one toward whom it is directed.
  • Effective programs and techniques are available to manage anger.
  • If you have issues with anger, please take the first step, to recognize and acknowledge it.
  • Then you can move forward, and control it before it controls you.
  • Stay tuned for more updates
  • If you would like to read more about anger, happiness, and a satisfying life, you can find it in my book, “How to Lead a Satisfying Life: 11 Universal Lessons From the Gita,” which is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5TGM1U.

 

Do You Know What Makes You Angry?

Superman

“I’m mad, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

“Don’t get mad, get even!”

Comments and advice about anger are pervasive. People get angry, and then do something about it: act on it, get even, whatever.

It usually makes matters worse.

Act on your anger?

We have all seen examples of problems this can create.

The idea of revenge, of getting even with the person who has wronged you, of hitting out at whomever has made you angry, can be very enticing, especially when you are in the throes of your strong emotion. However, doing that can often hurt you more than it hurts the other person. And it frequently does not solve the problem.

As Mahatma Gandhi believed, an eye for an eye will eventually make the entire world blind.

So bottle up your anger?

That is not very helpful, either.

It is far better to understand your anger and its manifestations. This can be a prelude to making realistic plans to control your anger and channel your feelings in a more healthy direction.

Why are you angry?

This is the most important question you must ask yourself when you get angry, or at least as soon as you are capable of rational thinking after your anger eases up a little.

Unless you can identify the underlying reasons for your anger, it is unlikely that you will be able to control the damage it does.

Judging situations

We have a storm of thoughts constantly raging in our minds. Thoughts are essential, because they determine our actions.

So when we are in a novel situation, our minds immediately go to work. We first evaluate the conditions and quickly decide whether we are safe or not.

This is a built-in evolutionary response. If our ancestors did not perceive threats quickly and respond to them right away, they had to pay a heavy price. It was essential for survival that they evaluate and act promptly.

We still have those mechanisms in us, but they do not always function as they were designed to. Also, not everybody learns the skills needed to view reality objectively.

So we can misinterpret reality, and that can make us angry.

Response to a threat

Anger is a very common response whenever we feel that we or our loved ones are facing a significant threat. The signs and symptoms of anger, which we are all familiar with, are the result of hormonal changes in our bodies, with the underlying aim being to help us to deal with the threat rapidly and aggressively.

tiger

Adrenaline pours into our bloodstream, our blood pressure and heart rate rise, and the blood flow to muscles increases. We are prepared for “fight or flight.”

All of this happens very fast, with our thinking simplified in order to just assess the threat and respond immediately. Detailed and nuanced thinking is put on the back burner.

What threat?

Sorting this out can be challenging.

The threat might be real, and it might be directed at your body.

If you are in school, a bully could be threatening you with bodily harm. As an adult, you could be assaulted by another person.

At times, the threat is to your loved ones. And that can make you even more angry. In the animal kingdom, if a baby bear faces an aggressor, the mama bear gets very vicious and fights off the invader. Human parents can behave similarly.

Threat to property

An intruder could enter your home and attempt to rob you. Most people would respond to this with anger as a prelude to violence.

Threat to ego

This can provoke anger which is often misplaced, and uncalled for.

“How dare he/she say that/do that to me!”

In strongly patriarchal societies, men can have inflated egos, and misconstrue simple comments from their significant others as direct challenges to their “authority,” or ego. This triggers a spontaneous, angry response, which can, at times, escalate into a violent outburst of rage.

Members of certain groups can take offence if they hear statements from their colleagues which they consider to be “disrespectful.”

There are also people who have a rather distorted sense of self-esteem. The slightest blow to that image they have of themselves is poorly tolerated, and can lead to outbursts of anger.

Gang violence can be a manifestation of the above phenomenon.

Threat may be imaginary

anger

This is one of the major problems we notice when we explore the emotion of anger in detail.

Real threats provoke anger, and that can be beneficial, as we try to urgently deal with an unexpected danger to life, limb, or property.

However, people can also imagine threats, and perceive threats which do not truly exist, except in their own minds. This leads to an unthinking angry response, which can hurt them.

Take a married couple, for example. One partner says or does something, which the other person does not like. It might be an innocent act, but the other person might take it as a deliberate slight. This can provoke either an outburst of rage, or sometimes passive anger, which can remain pent-up, and lead to chronic resentment. If there is a lack of frequent, honest communication, this can become a recurrent behavior pattern, driving the partners apart, and even leading to divorce.

Childhood conflicts

angry child

Not everybody has a perfect childhood. Many adults, however, can reconcile themselves with those experiences, and develop healthy attitudes as grown-ups.

Some people, on the other hand, are unable to move beyond the traumatic childhood events, which again could be real or imaginary.

A child who faces rejection from his or her parent, friends or relatives may carry a sense of bitterness, failure, and resentment into adulthood. This can cause a poor self image and a rather fragile ego. As an adult, such a person can become hyper-critical of others, and react angrily to otherwise ordinary comments and occurrences.

Unrealistic expectations

People may have an image of their abilities which is not shared by others. This leads them to feel that they will achieve certain financial or career goals, and when that does not happen, they feel disappointed. In some people, this disappointment turns into chronic bitterness, resentment, and anger.

Similarly, many people expect their friends, family members, or colleagues to act in a certain way, which may or may not be realistic. When faced with a different response, some of these these people can get very angry.

Loss of control

We are not always in control of events in the world or even in our lives. Unexpected things happen with surprising regularity in the lives of human beings. Some people are able to deal with it reasonably well, while others are not. This loss of control is a common cause for anger in many people.

Our desires or goals are interrupted

Angry

“I wanted to lead this project, but my boss has appointed John instead.”

“I wanted a diamond ring for my birthday, but my husband bought me a washing machine.”

“I want to earn a million dollars in the next five years, but the job market does not understand my unique skills.”

Feelings of entitlement

“I am smart. I should have a better job/more money/better girlfriend or boyfriend/bigger house/better car.”

Learned behavior and genetics

There are households in which one parent or the other always reacts to any unpleasant event with uncontrolled anger. Children in these households grow up without learning healthy methods of dealing with disappointments. Many of them are chronically angry as adults.

Workplace environments can also produce similar results. If your boss is constantly yelling and screaming at his or her subordinates, you might pick up those behavior patterns also, and start thinking that that is an appropriate way of dealing with others who report to you.

There is also a school of thought which believes that some children are predisposed to be more angry and irritable, and this persists in later life.

Frustration, skills and the blame game

GOLFER

A lot of people who get unduly angry repeatedly have poor social skills and a low tolerance for frustration. They have limited problem solving skills, and often blame others for their problems and their outbursts of anger. Their perception of reality is often distorted and one-sided.

Summary

Things are not always going to go the way we want them to go. People are not always going to behave the way we want them to. That is the nature of life. We need to learn to deal with this. Yelling and screaming and blaming others will not get us far. We have all seen people who do that, and most of them end up hurting themselves or their loved ones.

On the other hand, we have also seen people who react to similar circumstances in a more calm, relaxed, and mature manner. They focus on solving problems, not just on assigning blame.

We can learn to cope with our anger. For that, we need to understand what makes us angry, and then we can go on to acquire anger management skills.

We will deal with that in our subsequent posts. Stay tuned.

What about you?

What makes you angry?

How do you deal with your anger?

Please let us know.

 

Warning! Anger Comes In Many Forms

stress-543658_1280

His heart felt like it would leap out of his chest. The chest started to tighten up, and a burning feeling spread up from there to his face, and then his head. Someone was hammering away inside his head, desperate to burst out, as soon as his head exploded.

Most people have experienced symptoms like this at some point in their lives. This is what anger can do to you. No matter what the cause, a fit of rage can make you feel like a volcano ready to spew lava.

What you do at that point can affect your life in the most profound manner.

Because uncontrolled anger is a powerful destroyer of human happiness.

Tantrums

Have you ever seen a child in a grocery store begging for chocolate or candy? And what happens when the parent does not give in? The child screams, flings its arms around and stomps its feet. What do you think the parent should do?

angry-152486_1280

Most childish temper tantrums do not achieve much. The same is true for adults.

Range of anger

Obviously, most people do not boil over at the slightest provocation.

Minor annoyances are quite common in everybody’s life, and we are all familiar with the feeling of mild irritation at work, at home, or in social situations.

And then there is the violent rage.

At which end of the anger spectrum your response falls will depend on the provocation, but also on your ability to handle stress and manage your anger.

Why worry about anger?

At times, anger can actually help us.

If we get angry when we see injustice, either to us or to other people, it can motivate us to marshal our resources, and fight against it.

The entire world became angry and took a stand against apartheid, and a whole country had to back down.

However, quite often, uncontrolled anger hurts us, and can hurt others in our lives.

So what should we do?

If our anger controls us, we will be in trouble more often than not.

So the key is to keep your anger under control. Not to repress it, but to manage it.

However, in order to do that, you have to recognize the various forms anger can take, and also the reasons why people get angry.

Forms of anger?

Yes, anger comes in different forms. Not everybody kicks and screams, and rants and raves when in the grip of anger.

Volatile anger

This, of course, is what everybody is most familiar with.

sledgehammer-151228_1280

Typically, you see somebody suddenly go red in the face, and start shouting. They might pound on a table with their fists. Some people start throwing objects, either at a wall, or occasionally at another person, who might be the target of their anger.

The media frequently reports instances of domestic abuse, where a partner can get seriously hurt, or even die, as a result of the other partner’s outburst of rage which turned violent.

Tragically, children can be injured when they are in a situation where two domestic partners are fighting, and one turns violent.

Overwhelmed anger

burn-231306_1280

Modern life has become quite stressful and very demanding. Social support systems are under enormous strain. Jobs are disappearing and wages are dropping for working people. Childcare options for the middle class are not plentiful. As such, many people feel that their ability to cope is being stretched to the breaking point. They are simply overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, and this is expressed as anger.

Judgmental anger

People often compare themselves to others. We also judge other people fairly frequently. If we do not maintain a very healthy coping mechanism, we can become resentful of others, which is a form of anger at others. We may feel that we are more worthy than they are of receiving the good things in life.

Anger at self

Some people judge themselves very harshly. They may set unrealistic standards for themselves. And when they fail to meet those standards, they start feeling guilty. This is commonly reflected as anger directed toward oneself.

Avoidance

Many people feel embarrassed at the thought of being angry, or of showing their anger. In addition, they may not have developed healthy mechanisms for anger management. As a result, they end up suppressing their feelings of anger. This may work for a while, but in the long run, keeping your anger bottled up inside you is not a good idea. It keeps festering inside, and there is no resolution of the underlying problem which made you angry in the first place. All that you achieve is an increase in stress and tension, which is not very healthy.

Chronic anger

The people suffering from chronic anger go through life feeling angry all the time, at real or imagined injustice. They end up resenting others, and tend to have a very defensive view of the world. They appear to resent life itself, and are unable to enjoy any aspect of daily living.

Such an attitude places enormous stress on the individual, and can cause physical and mental health problems.

Chronic headaches, stomach headaches, and even heart disease might result from this chronic stress, and it also has an adverse effect on the immune system of the body.

Passive anger

This can be particularly difficult to control. It is also not easy to identify this kind of anger. In fact, even the person who indulges in this behavior may not realize that the underlying emotion is anger.

A common example is sarcasm. Other examples are being mean to people, or completely ignoring them. Quite frequently, the persons displaying this attitude are angry with others, or with themselves, and are unable or unwilling to confront their fundamental problems directly in an effort to resolve them.

Such people may be late for school or work, and may even skip them altogether. They end up hurting themselves, and often lose friends and alienate family members.

Where to go from here?

  • Uncontrolled anger is destructive.
  • Anger comes in many forms. It is important to understand them, before you can begin to control your anger.
  • Once you recognize the emotion, you must identify the underlying reasons for your anger.
  • Only then can you begin to embark on a journey of anger management.
  • We will discuss the reasons for anger, and how to control your anger, in subsequent posts.
  • Please let me know your thoughts, and stay tuned!
  • holding-anger-is-like-drinking-poison-anger-quote